For Iraqi refugees, the healing begins with pain

  • April 1, 2010
{mosimage}DAMASCUS, Syria - On Passion Sunday, no matter where we are, we witness a struggle between the human and what we would like to call the inhuman.

In Damascus among the Iraqi Christians, it’s hard to think of that drama as far away in time or geography. The refugees — afraid and often wounded in body and mind by their experience — are painfully and obviously human. The violence they have fled and their lives of waiting and hoping as they grow poorer in Damascus are exactly what we mean when we call anything inhuman.

Jesus is fully and completely human — human as God intended humanity to be. The forces lined up to hang Him on the cross are the ones that rob us of our humanity in every age.

There’s violence and force institutionalized in the Roman army, there’s the politics of narrow self interest played out by the Sanhedrin, there’s disunity among the people, there is the dishonesty and calculation of Pilate and Herod, there’s blindness to the truth, Peter’s failure of nerve and the need to have somebody to hold in contempt demonstrated to us by the thief hanging beside Jesus and taunting Him over His so-called powers.

The refugees in Damascus have experienced all the inhuman capacities of human beings. Letters have been posted to their doors telling them they will die in their homes, or be murdered in the street, if they had remained in Iraq. They’ve given their savings to kidnappers and lost their children, brothers, sisters or parents anyway. The impoverished Iraqi widows of Damascus live on $300 a month and World Food Program rice handed out by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Given their harrowing and final flight from vengeance and madness, it would seem there would be no need for a sermon on Passion Sunday at all. But the Chaldeans demand a sermon, a stern talking to, and they get it from Fr. Farid Botros and Fr. Gabriel.
But the tears begin to flow long after the sermon. Women who have endured the losses, the heartbreaks and loneliness weep as they kneel for the consecration. Communion, like most healing, begins with our pain.

Armies, politicians and the capacity to divide and hate are all human inventions. Jesus’ prayer for the strength and courage to stay human — as human as God needs and wants us to be, even unto death — is the hardest lesson in the Gospel.
It’s not that we don’t believe it. We know that there are two ways of being human — Jesus’ way and our way. But we excuse our complicity or our complacence by saying that these sad stories are just the way the world has always been, and therefore the way it must be.

Christ didn’t buy that logic. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” were His last words on the subject. It was a pledge to remain human, as human as God intended us to be, right to the end. It is the pledge Christians must make with their lives. And it’s a pledge the Iraqi refugees of Damascus are counting on.

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